Shot Down with Robbie
Robert J. "Mo" Moberg
Bandit 26 & Intruder 5
Shot Down with Robbie
The crew - WO Johnson, Crew Chief Smith,
Gunner, I can't remember for sure, I thought it was a young man named Gourley,
(Note: The gunner was Joe Corney, Gurley was WO Brent Guley.) myself
in left seat. SFC Doc Simpson operating hoist.
The Recon team had been pursued on the ground for 2
days. Major (Eldon?) Smith was flying the C&C with "Bruiser". The Team could not
find an LZ on the ridge line. The FAC spotted the team through small opening in
canopy. King went in and pulled out 3 members, 1 American and 2 Viets, by jungle
penetrator hoist under heavy fire and taking numerous hits. Bruiser and Smith
called the aircraft off and ordered Robbie the Team Leader on the ground to "Get
your Shit in order and find a safe LZ!" Robbie replied, " I got my shit in order
I'm just lookin' for that slick you promised would get us outa' here!"
Knowing the team could not defend itself for long with
only 3 of them left I requested the C&C vector me to them as I hovered down the
ridge with skids in the trees using the triple canopy for concealment. The C&C
gave us directions: right 3 degrees, left 5 degrees, hold heading, etc. It
worked. I looked down and there they were. Doc ran the hoist down full length.
Over 200 feet. They couldn't quite reach it. I settled 'til the blades were just
starting to clip the top of the trees as the gunner and crew chief reported
receiving heavy fire. Doc reported Graves on the hoist. We couldn't move for
fear of dragging Graves into the trees.
About that time I felt the aircraft rise as the bottom
windscreens disappeared and the cockpit filled with blue smoke. My right leg was
knocked left off the pedal by the buckled radio consul. I am sure we were hit by
a B40 rocket but can not confirm. The aircraft still at a hover started to drift
left. As I tried to correct I glanced at Johnson's death grip on the cyclic. I
screamed "I got it!" The aircraft still started drifting when I realized I had
no cyclic or pedals. I made the decision to crash in the trees versus from 500
feet over the valley. I bottomed the collective and saw the brush spinning
around us as the aircraft went nose down and then rolled upside down, stopping
about 6 feet from the ground.
I couldn't get the door open and screamed "Where the
hell is my gun!", when Doc poked me with his M16 from below and said "Here take
mine and get the hell out of there!" I crawled out through the nose. Doc and
Smitty were thrown out sustaining broken ribs. Johnson, the gunner, and I
climbed out sustaining broken pride! Doc and I climbed back up into the aircraft
to shut off the inverters that were still whining and Doc removed the M-60s and
survival kit. I also found my Car-15. Graves came over and kissed me on the head
and said, " I knew you'd come get me!"
Robbie came over and asked me if I wanted to take
command and reminded me of the policy that as Recon Team leader he was supposed
to remain in command. I gladly told him he was doing a fine job, to keep
truckin', and asked him what he wanted us to do. Robbie assigned us positions
and fields of fire in the ambush above a trail running well below the downed
aircraft. Bruiser advised us by PRC 25 to stay put until he could find an LZ to
send in a Platoon from the 93rd Ranger Battalion assigned to Delta for backup. I
divided the water and ammo from the survival kit as Doc set up an M-60 above and
It became real quiet and as I lay there looking at my
field of fire I heard Vietnamese jabbering and saw a man stop running about 20
yards from me looking away and down the hill. As he stopped the rest of his
squad ran into him bunching up. I was expecting the rescue Rangers but realized
the pith helmet and crossed harness looked strange. I glanced over at Robbie who
was licking his lips and slowly taking careful aim with his CAR. As I looked
back at the bunched up men in front of me the leader spun around. The red star
on his helmet stood out like a rotating beacon. Seeing the Huey hanging above us
he pointed and started to scream as my first burst hit him. As I was trying to
change magazines I was aware of the constant M-60 fire over my head and numerous
hand grenades being tossed into the now totally decimated squad of NVA in front
of me. Robbie gave a pullback signal and I helped Doc carry the M-60 and extra
ammo back up the ridge North of the aircraft where we set up a small perimeter
defense in a clump of tall elephant grass.
As we lay there unable to see 3 feet in front of us, we
could hear enemy troops coming up the other side of the ridge and firing into
the trees above our heads. One of the crew started shaking violently. Afraid he
may start firing and give our position away I quickly crawled down to him,
grabbed him hard by the shoulder and whispered, "Just remember, if you have to
die, there is no better way than fighting as a soldier for your country." He
shook his head yes and immediately settled down. I have pondered that moment in
similar circumstances many times since and wondered what the hell prompted me to
make such a statement!!! There ain't no good way to die!!! And if your fighting
for your life that is exactly what your fighting for! Not your country!
A few minutes later Robbie crawled over and told me the
Rangers were in-bound and to follow him North. As we were pulling out we heard
Vietnamese screaming back and forth at each other and then heavy firing to our
front. Graves told me later that they were saying we are un-armed as he and the
Viet Lieutenant opened fire on them. The Viet Lieutenant later told me they were
saying don't shoot, we are out of ammo! I have often wondered if we could have
taken them prisoner???
We kept moving and started sliding down the hill to the
East away from the NVA. I could see Smitty having a problem carrying the other
M-60 so I took it and gave him my CAR. We fought our way through the under
growth for what seemed like 3 or 4 hours until Graves made contact with the Viet
Rangers. The Rangers set up a blocking force and we passed through to a small LZ
in a stream at the bottom of the mountain. A Marine CH-46 came in and I started
helping everyone aboard. I stood there in a daze from exhaustion and adrenaline
let down watching the ramp of the 46 being closed and trying to take off with
some small saplings caught in the ramp. I realized I was NOT aboard when the
aircraft settled back, the ramp opened and Robbie reached out grabbing me by the
back of the harness dragging me in the aircraft like a sack of potatoes. We took
off receiving a couple hits as the gunners on the 46 were firing in all
directions. One of them even pulled out his .45 and fired out the window. I
often wondered if he knew the Rangers we right below us. We landed at Dong Ha
for refueling and inspection of the hits when I realized I was mostly naked from
the waste down. Those cheap Tiger fatigues had been completely torn off in the
brush. I have worn skivvies and two pair of "issue" pants on every operation
Slicks from the 281st picked us up and took us back to
Phu Bai. Major Smith met me as we landed, put his arm around me, welcomed me
home, and escorted us to the TOC for debriefing. After a short debrief Bruiser
ordered us all to Marble Mountain for more debriefing, rest, to let the medics
dig the thorns out of our asses and tape up Doc and Smitty ribs.
I guess if we had brought back documents
Robbie would have got the Silver Star instead of the BS w/V. I received a ACM
w/V, the crew received an AM w/V. I think.
Webmaster's notes: I flew with Mo some in May of 1967, but not
on this mission. The situation was about the same, but we succeeded in rescuing
the team and did not get shot down. I also flew with him to the floor of
the Aschau to drop supplies to a shot down and (still) missing crew member. He
was truly a legend in his own time among all of us in this business.
The note at the top of the text by a previous webmaster. This note
by Brent Gourley, CW4 (Ret.), 6.11.2015, webmaster.
CWO Lucious Theodore Untalan, Deceased
281st AHC 1968 – 1969
I did not know Ted in the 281st.
I knew him at Fort Bragg and again in Project Delta at Nha Trang in 1965 when he
was the only man to return from an over-run Recon Team working for Col. Charley
Beckwith in the An Lo Valley. The next time I met Ted was at Ban Khay near Moung
Soui, Laos on 24 June 1969.
I was on ground duty as the Senior
Advisor to the Lao Neutralist Army at Moung Soui when a reported eight
Battalions of NVA attacked at approx 0100 hrs 24 June. My Call sign was “CITY
HALL”. I was a FAG! That's right! FAG (Forward Air Guide), not FAC. The FAC
accreditation was authorized only for U.S. Air Force personnel. I was validated
to put in Air Strikes from the ground, not from the air. But no one really paid
any attention to the rules in heavy combat situations because everyone knew my
voice. When the smoke from over 200 A1E and F4 sorties was clearing in the
valley around my headquarters with the Thais during the morning of 24 June we
found the NVA in the wire and that we had lost all of our artillery. The
artillery positions to the East had fought bravely with enemy PT76 Tanks in the
wire, as well as numerous wounded, when an F-4 with a hung bomb flew overhead and accidentally dropped
the ordinance in the middle of the 155 Howitzer position causing 30 casualties.
In my compound we had sustained 35 wounded and 5 KIA. SFC Pompili handed me the
PRC 10 and I heard, "City Hall, this is Gravel Voice! (Major Michael Werbiski,
“SKI”) I'm over here at LS108 (Moung Soui). What do you want me to do?" ...
While the rest of the ARMA staff in Vientiane had been setting around listening
to what was happening to old Mo on the radio, Ski had put on his combat harness
and rushed to the airport, commandeered an Air America helicopter, and ordered
the pilot to drop him off at Moung Soui.
About that time the U.S. Army Attaché
(ARMA) Huey flown by Ted Untalan on TDY from the 70th Aviation
Company at Korat, Thailand flew overhead carrying the Attaché and General Thep
(Commander of Thai Forces in Laos). Ted asked the same question. I asked him if
he could land and get the “blood” out of my “front yard”. I advised him we were
still receiving periodic small arms fire and to make a tight spiraling approach
from the North and be prepared to make a quick “go-around” on my command. There
were a couple Air America helicopters circling overhead who would not or could
not land in a ‘hot’ LZ. Ted landed, dropped off the Thai Commanding General, and
made four more trips getting all the wounded out. While Captain Bessilieu, SFC
Pompili (my Arty Advisors), and I were helping with one of the loads Ted said;
“Major Mo, I have been chasing you since I left the 281st. The ARMA
people told me I might find you ‘fat-catnip’ it up here! What the hell did you
do to piss off the North Vietnamese Army?”
After learning the Neut Battalion
providing security next to us had ran away during the night my Thai counter-part
reminded me I had recently set up evacuation plans and requested I propose them
to the General. I advised the Colonel that we had "bloodied their nose" in round
one and I thought the fight had just begun. He reminded me that he was there to
provide artillery support for the Neuts, they had run, and he had no artillery.
He made a good point, so I agreed to ask the General to look at my evac plans.
When I approached the 5’2” General he jumped at least 2 feet in the air,
screamed “F--k you Moberg, F--k the US Ambassador, F--k ARMA, and F--k the
President of the United States!!! We are Thais!! We don't retreat!! We fight!!”
With that little lesson in Thai military doctrine we organized the 85 or so
troops we had left into an Infantry Platoon and put them on the fence. Ted took
me to Moung Soui, approx 4 km to the West on his last flight out so I could
evaluate what was left of the Neut Brigade and coordinate with Ski. Ted took the
ARMA to General Vang Pao’s Headquarters at Site 20A to try to get us some help
and plan my future.
He dropped me off on the wrong end of
the strip and as I was running along the hill side of the runway, where the good
guys were supposed to be, I could see Ski walking from hole to hole jerking the
troops up and pointing toward the NVA in the rice paddies on the other side of
the strip. I then noticed the O-1E Bird-Dog used by the Thais as an artillery
spotter was tied down in its revetment. The shacks around it had been burned
down and were still smoking. I asked Ski if he had looked at the plane and he
said he had and he hadn't seen any holes in it so I told him to hang in with the
Neuts and ran back to the Bird Dog. My pre-flight consisted of cutting the tie
down ropes with my trusty K-Bar (not SF issue) as I ran to the door, climbed in,
and held the start button on while screwing in the battery connector. It kicked
over after a couple rotations. I ran up the engine and checked the oil pressure
as I lowered flaps and took off from the revetment 45 degrees to the runway, and
flew 20 feet over the heads of the NVA in the rice paddies. I then did a recon
of the whole area trying to locate the Tanks that had been reported and landed
on a little road back in front of Ban Khay stopping just before hitting the
As I climbed out to report to the
General, I noticed a body move in the mud just in front of the wire. I waded in
to it and rolled him over. He immediately sat up and threw his hands up! I held
my Browning 9mm on him and grabbed him by the collar dragging him away from his
AK 47 lying in the mud. I motioned for the Thais at the gate to come get him.
The other 6 members of his sapper squad were lying dead in the wire. The best we
could make out through one of our officers who spoke some Vietnamese was that he
and his squad had practiced breaching the compound many times during the
previous five or six days with orders to kill the Foreign White Devils
(Bessilieu and ME? Pompili was Black!). He said his job was to crawl up and pull
the wire aside after his partner blew it up with ‘satchel charges’ so the rest
of the squad could run through the breach. But his partner was shot immediately
when he crawled up to the wire and then it appeared everyone in the compound
started shooting at him so he just laid there in the mud while the rest of the
squad ran into the wire and were killed by the hand grenades and machine gun
fire from the Thais. I have always surmised that his commander forgot to tell
him that the soldiers in the compound would not like anyone blowing up their
After advising the General of my
intentions to locate the enemy from the air, I left Captain Bessilieu in charge
with the “City Hall” call sign and changed my call sign to “Jacks”. I took off
again, with an anxiously tight rectum, barely clearing the building at the other
end of the road. I found one PT-76 Tank dead in the wire at our 155 Howitzer
position 3 kilometers to the East and continued to search for the three other
reported tanks. I made contact with the Battery First Sgt and told him to try to
get his wounded back to the road in front of Ban Khay headquarters. All of the
Battery officers had been KIA or WIA. Ted came back after dropping off the ARMA
at Site 20A to try to get more wounded out and act as radio relay with the
General while I continued my search for the tanks and more friendly troops
fighting their way back to Hqs. He also helped me coordinate airdrops of ammo
from the Air America C-46s who had started arriving overhead until the weather
started to deteriorate.
Running low on fuel myself I radioed
Ski to find the hand pump at Moung Soui and landed just before dark to pick him
up and refuel. Ski and a Neut refueled me in pouring rain while I talked to the
Neutralist Colonel (the Brigade Commander, I will not mention names) who assured
me he was in charge of the situation and would drive the NVA back to Hanoi!!
With that interesting information I considered staying with him for about "10
seconds", but decided if I wanted to keep my airplane for the next day I had
better take Ski to 20A. It was dark when we took off and raining like hell. The
lightning looked pretty bad to the South and out of the dark sky came 3 Raven
O1s on the radio saying 20A was socked in and asked me if I knew where LP (Luang
Prabang) was located. I welcomed their arrival to the fight as they had not been
there all day or the night before and advised that LP was 35 minutes flight time
on a heading of approx 345 degrees. They advised they had no maps of the area. I
gave them the LP Beacon frequency and told them to remain above 6500 feet and
they should pick up the signal 15 minutes out. They said their ADFs didn't work
well and that one of them was almost out of gas. I advised there was plenty of
gas at Moung Soui and how to get it. I turned on my lights and asked the Raven
out of fuel to follow me down over the strip, which is big, wide, and yellow
laterite, even in the rain.
Numerous buildings were still burning
around the strip outlining it fairly well. The Raven found the strip, landed,
and refueled while I led the other 2 aircraft toward LP. When the LP beacon came
in strong and I was assured they had locked on I returned toward MS to make sure
the Raven who had landed got out. I made radio contact with him on the way back
and asked him to turn on his Nav lights and watch for my lights. He then said he
had contact with LP. Ski cursed and I turned back for LP. We heard the
AIRA ground personnel on the radio saying they had Jeeps parked on each end of
the runway with lights on to mark the airstrip. As we came over head there were
no lights. I landed with my landing light and found no one at or near the strip.
Ski and I walked a couple kilometers and found a Samlor who took us to the ARMA
house. Ski was still cursing the Air Force for not waiting on us and wanted to
make an assault trip to the AIRA house but I talked him out of it because it was
almost midnight. I wanted to be back in the air by 0500 in order to be back over
Moung Soui by daylight to watch the Neuts drive the NVA back to Hanoi!
I hope the above is accepted for what
it is. I have nothing but the greatest admiration and appreciation for the
Ravens and what they did for me for many years. I had some great friends in the
Ravens. I don't know what those pilots were thinking that night. They obviously
knew nothing about the situation at Moung Soui. So I guess they assumed that I
being an Army dumbass was going back to Moung Soui for dinner. I heard the pilot
was awarded the Silver Star for landing and refueling at Moung Soui after dark?
More power to him.
Later, the ARMA called me into his
office and requested I confirm recommendations for Silver Stars for the pilots
of the Air Force helicopter that had a landing accident while evacuating the
Thais from Ban Khay on 27 June as well as a Raven pilot that had landed at Moung
Soui for fuel on the night of 24 June. As I read the recommendations I asked if
any of them had been wounded, bled, or received a Purple Heart? The answer
was no so I refused to sign. He chewed my ass and ordered me to recommend Capt
Bessilieu for a Silver Star and put myself in for a DFC. Again I refused and was
sent to Sam Thong to replace the Senior Advisor who had been killed with Ski on
19 August. Captain Boon Heng, my dog-robber and back seater, was MIA near Ban
Ban as a back seater for a Raven after a mid-air with an F105 on 18 August. I
sent Ski to 20A to try to gather up his personal belongings. He was killed with
the Air America Porter pilot and the Military Advisor on Skyline Ridge.
know if everyone got their Silver Stars? I assume they did. And I don’t have a
problem with that. Everyone worked fearlessly hard during the attack on M.Soui
24 thru 27 June 69 and the subsequent evacuation of the SR on 27 June. I
received another DFC in the mail. I think Ski was posthumously awarded another
Bronze Star to add to his collection, at which I am sure he would have laughed,
chewed it up, and washed it down with a swig of Chivas from the bottle he and I
kept in the Bear Cage at 20A. The same bottle that I finished the night before I
climbed Skyline Ridge to carry his charred remains down the hill and escort it
the Moung Soui fiasco, Ted remained TDY to Laos and supported me at Sam Thong
when I replaced the Senior Advisor to Military Region 2 who died with Ski. The
Air Force took my O1 Bird dog away from me citing a shortage of aircraft. My
protest that I had found the aircraft abandoned as a combat loss went unheeded
until USAID RO and Air America decided they had an extra U10 Helio Courier they
didn’t need. They gave it to me with free fuel and maintenance. I checked myself
and Ted out in it and kept it until forced to turn it in for sale as salvage six
years later. I almost bought it back myself. While at Sam Thong Ted would bring
the ARMA Huey to support me a couple days a week or during special operations
when I needed a helicopter to go where Air America refused to go. As I was also
on flight status I would tell the R.L.O. flying with Ted to get in the back
while Ted signed me off as current for flight pay. General Vang Pao, the CG of
Military Region II and the leader of the ‘Barrel Chested Mong (Meo) Tribesman’
loved it when Ted arrived because he knew we would take him anywhere he wanted
to go in any weather without a SAR backup aircraft. On numerous occasions we
would get caught in bad weather with VP out on the Plaine de Jars. Totally
‘socked in’ Ted would hover down the river at 20 knots with the rotor blades
seemingly a couple feet from the walls on each side until we safely arrived back
at Site 20A.
I tried to extend my tour with Project
404 but the CG USARSUPTHAI at Korat said I was the only dual rated Major in the
area and demanded I take command of the 70th Aviation Company at Camp
Friendship, Thailand. The CG let me remain TDY to Project 404 for an additional
90 days at the request of the Ambassador to Laos. I checked out CWO4 Bob
Filipowski in the Helio, got a haircut, bought some new fatigues, and reported
to the CG as directed. It was a total disaster. When I took command of the
company we had 21 airplanes and helicopters of which 3 were flyable! I fired the
maintenance officer, shipped 36 over strength personnel to Korea, and received
an Article 15 from the CG for using the “MF” word directed at the Provost
Marshall for writing delinquency reports on my pilots and crew chiefs coming
through the gate 5 minutes after “Bed Check”! I fought the ridiculous midnight
curfew because there was no war in Thailand and most of my pilots and crew
chiefs were highly decorated and spirited Vietnam veterans who liked to party
once in awhile. As long as they reported for work on time sober I didn’t care if
they stayed out all night! Unfortunately, the CG and COS didn’t see it that way
and instructed the Provost Marshal write up anyone coming through the gate
between midnight and 0600. It was an ineffective order because you could come
through the gate at 0601 hours in plenty of time to be at work by 0700 resulting
in many young troops staying out drinking all night and reporting for work drunk
because they couldn’t get to their quarters without a Delinquency Report.
After getting rid of the do nothing
maintenance officer I put a young captain and Ted in charge of maintenance. When
I transferred back to Project 404 three months later, again at the request of
the Ambassador to Laos, we had 18 aircraft flyable and 3 down for maintenance
thanks to Ted Untalan.
While still in command at Korat I sent
Ted back to Laos on TDY in support of the ARMY Attaché. The DCG of ARPAC. LTG
William Yarborough made a trip to Laos to observe Operation About Face in which
General Vang Pao and his troops caught the NVA strung out in front of their
supply lines and literally defeated them. They captured tons of supplies,
weapons, tanks, and artillery effectively extending the war for another 3 years.
Ted and I were flying the Ambassador and the General around the PDJ looking for
VP. We landed at the famous ‘Jars’ where Ted and I taught the general and
ambassador to fire the AK47. We were shut down in defilade behind a small hill
when a firefight broke out just over the hill. Ted said, “You stay here and I’ll
go see what the hell is going on.” Reluctantly I agreed and cranked up the Huey
as an apprehensive ambassador and general climbed in the aircraft. A few minutes
later a NVA PT-76 Tank towing a 85mm Field Gun came rolling out of the trees
with General Vang Pao and Ted Untalan standing next to the gun in front of the
turret!! The Ambassador and General didn’t know what to do except get out of the
helicopter and stand there clapping their hands!
In late 1970 I was asked to form the
UTT Flight Detachment with three UH1H Hueys and my Helio-Courier, courtesy of
the RO (USAID) and Air America. I immediately requested Ted as my Maintenance
Officer. We were located at Udorn AFB, Thailand for maintenance and security
purposes and flew daily into Laos in support of the Army Attaché, Project 404,
and the U.S. Embassy. Colonel Charley Brewington had replaced me at Sam Thong
and the NVA had now got into position to put rocket and mortar fire around Sam
Thong and 20A. Ted and I flew up to 20A to support Colonel Brewington who had
got caught under heavy mortar fire at a site just north of Sam Thong. As we
circled overhead talking to Charley on the radio I could see there was a lull of
a few seconds between the incoming mortar barrages. I advised Charley that he
was going to have to get some air strikes on the enemy mortars before we could
land. He said he would if he could but didn’t know where the hell they were
coming from. Ted looked at me and asked how many seconds between barrages? I
answered about 30. He said, “Well, come on Boss, we can get in there and out in
30 seconds!” I advised Charley that we would be on the ground approx 10 seconds
and to get his ass in the chopper if he wanted to have dinner with us that
night. We landed. He did. During takeoff a round exploded under the tail boom
causing enough damage for us to return to Vientiane. Ted calmly turned around to
me after takeoff and said, “You took 11 seconds!” We made Charley pay for the
steaks in Vientiane that night and took the aircraft back to Udorn for tail boom
replacement the next day.
One night during a heavy thunderstorm
Ted and I was having a few beers in my little house by the pond in Udorn when
the ARMA called me from Vientiane. He said the French Charge de Affairs had
crashed in a light aircraft at a location called “Grove Jones” just across the
border in Laos Northeast of NKP. He told us the Air Force Jolly Greens at NKP
could not or would not go get them and asked if we would try to make the rescue
saying he would fly overhead in the DIA U21 for moral support! Ted and I took
off IFR to NKP for refueling. I asked NKP radar if they could vector me to the
area about 78nm Northeast. They agreed and after refueling and wishing we were
flying one of the many CH54s parked on the ramp with Tacans, VORs, weather
radar, and everything else available in those days (you name it) we took off at
midnight with our fluctuating ADF and inoperable transponder in pouring down
rain. The U21 advised they could see the vehicle lights at the crash site
through the cloud cover.
When we arrived overhead Ted started a
tight 15 knot spiraling descent through the clouds landing next to the fool who
tried to take off in a light Cessna with the Carburetor Heat on. I knew
the pilot well who now had a bloody knot on his head, as did the Charge’. We
took them back to NKP where they were transferred to the U21 that took them to
Bangkok. The Air Force Base commander came out in the rain while we were
refueling and congratulated us on a job well done. I advised the Colonel it was
just another routine flight for the UTT Flight Detachment. The following day
Ambassador Godley summoned the crew and me to his home in Vientiane. After
pouring all of us a cognac to go with the morning coffee he said we had done
more for US / French relations that night than his whole staff had done since
the Indochina War in 1954! I asked him to put it in writing for the crew chief
and Ted, I would just as soon have some more of his French Cognac. I don’t think
he ever did put it in writing.
My philosophy on golf during those
days was, “If you had time to play golf, you were not doing your job”,
especially soldiers drawing combat pay! Until the JUSMAG A&R sent an airplane
full of sports equipment to us which included three sets of golf clubs. I
advised Ted who had also never swung a club, that if we were ever going to
join the generals in Bangkok and Saigon we would have to learn to play golf. We
both got the fever immediately.
The Meo at 20A had killed and beheaded
a NVA sapper during an attack on the site. Somehow the head with a bullet hole
through the front teeth and a big exit hole out the back. It out wound up behind
the Bear Cage Bar where actually sat on top of a bear cage wherein two large
Black Bears resided. When a new Chief of Station took over he ordered they
get rid of the skull. Ted was there at the time and someone asked him to dispose
of it. Ted brought the skull back to Udorn, cleaned and polished it, and placed
it above his bar at home with two golf balls in the eye sockets! Ted’s wife was
unhappy but finally accepted her fate. One day we were playing golf at the Udorn
Army Course, which was a pasture with criss-crossing fairways when Ted hit an
iron shot off a par three Tee that had a lot of rocks in the dirt. He had his
eye on the ball and a chip of a rock came straight up hitting him in the eye
which filled with blood instantly, scaring the hell out of both of us. I rushed
him to the hospital cursing myself for ever having started the game and was sure
he had lost his eye. A doctor removed took the rock from his eye, put him on
medications for a couple weeks, and his eye healed as good as new. But the next
time I went to his house I noticed the skull with the golf balls was gone and
his wife was smiling and saying “ I told you so!” Ted actually became a scratch
golfer in later years.
In early 1971 I was asked to organize
and form the “White Horse” Gun Platoon with 10 UH1M gun ships of my choice from
Vietnam. All the pilots and crews were Thai. I flew to Vietnam and picked out
the best 10 of 14 “Mike” models in the country. While the aircraft were being
prepared for transfer I sent ten Thai Army, fourteen Thai Air Force, and three
Thai Police pilots along with twice as many crew chiefs to Vung Tau, Vietnam for
transition and training in the UH1M with the XM21 gun systems (7.62 Mini-Guns
and rocket pods). After they had completed training I flew back to Bien Hoa,
Vietnam to lead them to Udorn over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, refueling and arming
at Kontum enroute. I became a bit nostalgic as I walked around the old
Project Delta FOB compound where I had been with the 281th in 1968.
It was deserted and only a few ARVN soldiers were there to provide security for
our stopover. One of the aircraft had a severe vertical vibration and the Thai
crew didn’t want to fly it. Determined to get all 10 of my aircraft to Thailand
I decided to fly it. The ‘vertical’ was so bad I couldn’t go over 50 knots
without permanent damage to my eyeteeth and hemorrhoids.
As we were staggering along over the
‘Trail’ at 5000 feet I thought I had made a severely bad decision. We were
supposed to have A1E escort across the ‘Trail’ but the “Sandy’s” never showed up
until we were on short final to Pakse, Laos. My Thai counter-part (a Thai Air
Force Colonel with no rank insignia!) wanted to spend the night at Pakse. I
insisted that we continue on to Udorn arriving after dark. When I had the runway
at Udorn in sight I ordered “Go Trail” and we were cleared for landing to the
median next to runway 36. After landing to a hover and starting to move
toward our parking area I could hear a lot of excitement over the radio. Two
aircraft had landed in a rice paddy outside the approach to the Air Base, two
had made it to Udorn AFB with me, the three Police Pilots had landed at the
Border Patrol Police airstrip on the other side of town, and the two others had
landed in the middle of Udorn town at the main intersection. We didn’t
find the last aircraft until the next day. He had landed in the local prison
football field with a 40 foot wall around him and the crew had been arrested. It
was apparent to me that the U.S. Army had not trained these pilots to fly simple
night operations much less combat operations in Laos. I needed help! So I
requested Ted Untalan as my Deputy and maintenance officer. After the sad loss
of an aircraft with five crewmen due to vertigo when returning from Laos in bad
weather I demanded a halt to operations until Ted and I had given 25 hours under
the ‘Hood’ and a check ride to each White Horse pilot.
During an operation at Xieng Lom in
Northern Laos Ted and I took three Gunships to support a Thai battalion
commander (West Point graduate) who later became the Commander of the Thai First
Army and then Permanent Secretary of Defense of the Royal Thai Government. The
General is now a Privy Counselor to the King. The Battalion was backed up on a
ridge with many KIA and 7 WIA with the Colonel. We had been requested to provide
gunship support for Air America helicopters working in the area to get the
wounded out. An Air America pilot had been killed in the area previously by one
round in the head as he was taking off. The AC of one of the AA H34s refused to
fly into the LZ. The Captain of the other AA chopper wanted to fly but could not
under company policy if the other aircraft was not in the air acting as SAR. I
was irate and demanded the pilot who refused to fly with White Horse support be
terminated. (He was not!) After some cross words with reference to our mothers,
Ted grabbed the Air America Captain firmly by the head, looked up at me, and
said “Boss, what do you want me to do with this #%&# coward?" I told him not
hurt him and let him go back to Louisiana to fly for BHI..
Ted had mounted a .50 Cal machine gun
in one of our aircraft because we were having so many maintenance problems with
the mini-guns. I dropped the rocket pods off of my gunship and made the pick up
of the WIA while Ted placed a wall of .50 Cal fire around me. I was never shot
at that I know of.
I retired in 1972 and went to work
flying Pilatus Porters for Continental Air Services, a company owned by
Continental AirLines in Laos leaving Ted in charge of the White Horse Gun
Platoon. The powers that be brought in another Major at a later date and Ted
retired also. He went to work for Bell Helicopters in Iran until the revolution.
He and his wife came to visit me in Bangkok while I was the DEA Senior Advisor
to the Thai Police Aviation Division. I was the operations advisor to the
Division, which had an assortment of 92 fixed and rotary wing aircraft.
Availability rate was about 3 percent due to lack of parts and maintenance. So
it was easy to justify a Maintenance Advisor. The U.S. State Department hired
Ted as my assistant and maintenance advisor. In 1981 I was made an offer I
couldn’t refuse in the Oil Patch. I resigned from DEA and Ted assumed both my
job and his. As usual he performed in such an outstanding manner he could still
be there. But after about seven years he decided to retire to personal business
at his home in Guam. I returned to Bangkok with my youngest daughter from the
Sudan in 1990 because of the Gulf War. I was living in a room above the Lone
Star Texan Bar in Bangkok with my daughter in an adjoining room. I wondered what
the hell I was doing with a 12-year-old girl among the temptations of Bangkok
nightlife. I finally got her enrolled in a boarding school at Penang, Malaysia
but she just could not take the regimentation and called me twice a day crying
and pleading with me to come get her. Worried and frustrated I came downstairs
for breakfast a couple mornings later and Ted Untalan sat down beside me and
said “Bro, I have come for our daughter! My old lady has told me not to come
home without her!” I took her to Guam where she stayed with Ted and his family
for two years until graduating from Grade School.
Lucius Theodore Untalan passed
away at Guam after a long and painful bout with cancer of the colon in
December 1998. Ted is survived by his wife Penny and son Patrick, who I have
not been able to face for not having gone to his funeral.
Ted and I used to sit on the curb
in front of the bars at Udorn after organizing all the street children in a
‘column of fours’ and buying them a bowl of noodles. He would ask me to
"Tho’ I've belted you and flayed
by the livin’ GOD that made you,
you’re a better man than I am, Gunga
MO in LAOS
Major Robert “Mo” Moberg left the 281st to attend the Infantry Advance Class and
following graduation returned to South East Asia working with the Laotian Army
as a senior advisor. At the time the Neutralist Army of Laos was under attack by
the communist forces of North Vietnam, China and opposing Laotian forces within
the country. The following story was published in an article covering the use of the L-19 (O-1) Bird Dog in the Vietnam War. Note that he was still using his Bandit call sign. http://www.talkingproud.us/Military/Birddog/BorddogIndochina/BirddogIndochinaWar.html
Major Robert J. "Mo" Moberg, call sign Bandit 26, a
helicopter driver, was in a jam at Ban Khar near Moung Soi, Laos in June 1969
while working as a senior advisor to the Lao Neutralist Army, whom he
irreverently called the "Neuts." He was also working with Thai forces in the
same area. To make a long story short, an Army Attaché helo flew in, picked up
Mo, and dropped him off at Lima Site 20A where he was going to try to organize
some help for his beleaguered forces.
He was dropped off at the wrong end of the strip, close to
where there was some fighting going on with the NVA on the perimeter. In any
event, he noticed a Thai OE-1 Bird Dog tied down to a revetment. He describes
what he did next: "I ran back to the Bird Dog. My pre-flight consisted of
cutting the tie down ropes with my trusty K-Bar as I ran to the door, climbed
in, and held the start button on while screwing in the battery connector. It
kicked over after a couple rotations. I ran up the engine and checked the oil
pressure as I lowered flaps and took off from the revetment 45 degrees to the
runway, and flew 20 feet over the heads of the NVA in the rice paddies. I then
did a recon of the whole area trying to locate the tanks that had been reported
and landed on a little road back in front of Ban Khay stopping just before
hitting the front gate ... I took off again, with an anxiously tight rectum,
barely clearing the building at the other end of the road."
(There is another story about Mo in Laos that describes him
as needing helicopters so he gathered up several former helicopter pilots living
in South East Asia and led them over the border of Laos into Pleiku, South
Vietnam where he and his group recovered several UH-1 helicopters and flew them
back to Laos for use in supporting his “Neuts”. All of this was done under the
eyes of the NVA who were moving in to South Vietnam as the Americans were
Helicopters in Vietnam
Jim Morris (former SF officer)
warfare became three dimensional in World War II with the introduction of the
parachute and the glider. With these developments came the ability to introduce
troops to the battlefield at almost any point, and with very little warning.
offensive standpoint that was the good news. The bad news was that parachutes
spread troops all over the battlefield with little or no regard to unit
cohesion. Paratroopers found themselves alone in the dark in enemy territory.
First mission, find some other allied paratroopers before the enemy finds you,
form a squad, find some more and form a platoon.
Paratroopers are highly individualistic and trained to fight on their own.
Frequently the confusion factor worked to the allies benefit. But it often took
three days to a week before an airborne division could fight as a unit. As a
rule generals do not like to leave the outcome of a battle to privates. Not for
three days to a week.
while parachuting has its disadvantages gliders were an outright disaster. Any
landing was a controlled (sometimes) crash that did more damage to glider troops
than the enemy.
World War II the army reduced its parachute force to two divisions, and
abandoned the glider altogether.
started with a well developed doctrine of vertical envelopment, carried out
entirely by parachute. The 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team,
commanded by Brigadier General William Westmoreland made two combat jumps.
new factor had been introduced in the third dimension of warfare, the
helicopter. In Korea the only choppers available were light observation craft,
used as air ambulances, and command and control helicopters for corps commanders
and above. But it didn’t take a genius to see that bigger helicopters with
greater lift capability could serve to restore that much needed factor of unit
integrity and command and control. A few real visionaries even dreamed of the
helicopter as a gun platform.
the U.S. Air Force was separated from the Army in 1947 it was not contemplated
that the Army would have no aircraft at all. But each service is jealous of its
prerogatives. Obviously strategic bombing went to the Air Force, also fighters
and fighter bombers. To the Army were left observation aircraft, air ambulances
for ground troops, fixed and rotary wing command control aircraft for senior
officers. The Army was even allowed twin engine transports for short runs around
the battle area.
1947, the Air Force did not want the Army to fight with airplanes. That
was their job. That meant that the Army, unlike the U.S. Marines, could not fly
its own close air support. That mission was performed very bravely by Air Force
pilots, but without command emphasis. The Air Force, in its heart of hearts,
wants to fly high and fast. Close air support requires the airplane to fly low
and slow, armored from ground weapons, carrying huge amounts of bombs, rockets,
and machineguns. Not the Air Force idea of a glamour job.
the end of World War II until the start of Vietnam this discrepancy of emphasis
was not much of a problem. Regardless of the Air Force’s desire to fly high and
fast, there were plenty of low, slow prop-driven fighters ideally suited to the
close air support mission.
the start of Vietnam the Air Force flew so high and fast that they had to buy
A1Es back from the Navy to support troops. The last aircraft available for close
air support were the Navy’s A1Es and T-6s, a plane developed as a trainer that
never was intended to fight at all.
technology taketh away, it also giveth. While the Air Force was developing
higher faster jets the Army was developing bigger, faster, stronger helicopters,
some of which were capable of serving as a stable weapons platform. The only
problem was political, the agreement with the Air Force not to fly those
missions that the Air Force jealously guarded, but didn’t much want to actually
perform, unless it could do so at high speed and from a great height.
Lieutenant General James M. Gavin wrote an article which envisioned a new form
of cavalry, without horses, which performed the classic cavalry mission of
arriving unannounced in the thick of battle and raising hell. General Gavin, who
had commanded the 82d Airborne Division in World War II had become one of the
Army’s foremost strategic thinkers, and he had long been a proponent of the
doctrine of vertical envelopment. The idea caught fire.
was convened, under the leadership of Lieutenant General Hamilton Howze, Chief
of Army Aviation, to implement General Gavin’s vision. From the Airmobility
Concept Board emerged the concept of an airmobile division. Like the cavalry
division of yore it would consist of dragoons, which are troops that move to the
battlefield mounted, then dismount and fight on foot, and pure cavalry, which
fights mounted. In the classic cavalry the dragoons fought with rifles and
bayonets, and the cavalry fought with pistols and sabers. In the new cavalry the
dragoons still had rifles and bayonets, but the cavalry was airborne, armed with
rockets and machineguns.
Meanwhile, in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand helicopter warfare was being
waged for real, with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam going into battle in
bumbling old H-21 Flying Bananas, and H-19s. The results were not highly
encouraging. Granted the helicopter was faster than walking, and more secure
than coming in ambush-vulnerable truck convoys. But seldom in history has an
army or a government been more riddled with spies, quislings, collaborators, and
traitors than that of the Republic of Vietnam.
factor in heliborne warfare is surprise, and that factor was totally absent in
Vietnam. The enemy always knew when the ARVN was coming. When they arrived
either the battlefield was empty, or there was a world of hurt lying in wait.
while the dragoon part of the Air Cav equation was limping along
unsatisfactorily, the cavalry part was lacking altogether. Close air support,
what there was of it, was provided by the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) through a
clumsy and cumbersome command and control apparatus that routed every request
for support through a joint staff in Saigon which dickered, dawdled, and kept
the enemy fully informed.
Meanwhile, at Ft. Benning GA the Army’s home of the infantry, the 11th
Air Assault Division (Test) had been formed to measure the recommendations of
the Howze Board. The 11th AADT had two things a conventional division
lacked. The first of these was its own organic heliborne transport. The
conventional division, lacking these choppers, is in the position of a family
which is entirely dependent on public transportation. The 11th AADT
was like a family that owned a car, and SUV, a pick-up, two motorcycles, and
bikes for everybody. They were ready to fight a rich man’s war.
other thing that the 11th had which a conventional division lacked
was its own close air support, in the form of huey gunships, which had rockets,
miniguns, conventional machineguns, everything but bombs.
ability to arm the gunships was purchased at a dear price. The agreement to arm
helicopters had to be negotiated with the Air Force. The Army got gunships; the
air force took over the Army’s twin engine transports. Army advisors in Vietnam
soon found that the Caribou, which had been developed to land on short dirt
strips could no longer do so. The U.S. Air Force likes to fly high and fast, and
also likes long hard runways.
AADT spent a year perfecting its new craft at Ft. Benning, performed splendidly
in a monster exercise against the 82d Airborne Division. Almost as soon as the
11th had cleaned its weapons and washed its vehicles it found itself
redesignated the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and on its way to
soon after settling in at their new headquarters in An Khe the Cav learned one
of the most disheartening facts of modern war. Although the heliborne soldier
goes to combat on a first-class ticket, once he’s off the chopper he’d down
there in the same blood and mud as any other grunt. And in Vietnam this was a
nightmare world of grass that cuts like razors, wait-a-minute vines, and triple
canopy jungle that confines movement to narrow, easily ambushed trails and cuts
visibility to about three feet in any direction.
disheartening fact is that in the entire history of warfare there have been few
targets as lucrative as a lumbering transport helicopter, settling slowly into a
hot LZ to discharge its troops.
had not been in Vietnam very long when it faced its first significant test
against a real enemy. In November of 1965 the U.S. Special Forces camp at Plei
Me was besieged for _____days. The siege was broken when the NVA proved unable
to dislodge the defenders, who had been augmented by a force from Project Delta
commanded by then Major Charlie Beckwith. A battalion of the 1st
Cavalry Division was brought in to give chase, 1st Bn 7th
Cavalry, George Custer’s old outfit. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore,
the 1st Bn found itself vastly outnumbered by the NVA. The 2d Bn was
committed and, in spite of the tactical blunders which might be expected of a
newly deployed division, inflicted casualties on the enemy in a ten to one
ratio. It was a victory, but a costly one. Thus was revealed the first lesson of
heliborne or any other type of war. Regardless of all the wonderful stuff, in
the final analysis it all comes down to basic infantry tactics.
learned its lessons fast and well. It went on to many splendid victories and no
defeats at all. In 1966 and ‘67 the 101st Airborne Division was
converted to Airmobile and joined the Cav in Vietnam.
the Cav and other conventional units were perfecting the art of pouncing on the
enemy from dozens of helicopters, Special Forces units were perfecting the art of
sneaking reconnaissance units on one.
Strategic intelligence was always at a premium in Vietnam. Even Americans who
spoke Vietnamese, few as they were, did not look Vietnamese, and had to defend
on their thoroughly infiltrated counterparts for information. The intelligence
gathering apparatus had to be brought under American control.
to achieve this end was a specially created Special Forces detachment designated
B-52. Code name for the project was Leaping Lena. Leaping Lena required
considerable specialized equipment. For ease of shipment the supply officer on
the project, Captain Larry O’Neil, started marking pallets designated for B-52
with a chalk triangle. Before long the experiment, which is what it was in the
beginning, became known as Project Delta.
most experiments Delta began with a few false starts. The first teams were all
Vietnamese. The quality of the intelligence was still suspect and their casualty
rate was appallingly high. So Americans were added to the teams.
first infiltrations were by parachute. For years Special Forces had been
fascinated by an infiltration technique known as HALO (High-altitude
Low-opening) by which small highly trained teams could be inserted without
detection by getting out above the sight and sound of human perception, in teams
too small to be detected by radar. A good HALO team can land very close
together, within say, a twenty-foot square. But in triple canopy jungle that’s
still too far apart. A few men landing at night in the trees in thick jungle
have the devil’s own time getting together before first light, recovering their
parachutes and hiding them from detection.
small reconnaissance team alone in enemy territory was highly vulnerable. They
couldn’t just fly in on a loud and highly visible helicopter and get off like
commuters at a bus stop.
soon as a technique would be developed which worked, the enemy would develop
Vietnam War, as a whole, was a game of cat and mouse. But in recon the NVA were
the cats and the recon teams were the mice, albeit mice with teeth, mice allied
the teams sneaked in at dusk on one chopper, settling quickly into small breaks
in the trees. Low to the treetops a chopper was usually overhead and gone before
the NVA could react. One deception technique was to go in with two choppers in
trail, the first carrying the team. The lead chopper would settle into the hole,
drop off the team and come back up as the second chopper passed overhead and all
the NVA would see was two choppers in trail.
wise NVA commander, and there were many of them, staked out likely clearings in
his area of operation, so it became increasingly difficult to get a team in
undetected. The team itself would have to perform its lonely mission hunted by a
Sometimes, to evade detection teams went into bomb craters by rope ladder or
rappelled into clearings too small for the chopper to land.
their own they developed devices to lift themselves by helicopter straight up
through the jungle. Known as McGuire and STABO rigs, after their inventors,
Sergeant Major ________McGuire and _________, _________, and__________ the rigs
added a James Bond element to operations already death haunted and eerie.
of these extremely dangerous limitations Project Delta and the other operations
it inspired were highly successful. Teams on the ground were in contact with an
airborne Forward Air Controller, and were able to direct Air Force air strikes
against enemy installations that were politically forbidden to conventional
ground troops and invisible from the air. They gave allied commanders a picture
of what the enemy was up to that was otherwise unobtainable.
1966, with fewer than 50 American assigned Delta was providing 60% of tactical
intelligence for the entire Republic of Vietnam. It was time to expand. Delta
gave birth to Sigma and Omega, to cross border operations Command and Control
North, South, and Central, and to the MACV Recondo School, which trained long
range reconnaissance teams for conventional brigades and divisions.
these teams had appallingly high casualty rates. Fifty percent for Delta, which
operated principally in the northern half of South Vietnam, and up to 115 % for
the Command and Control teams of the Studies and Observations Group.
every man they lost they killed roughly 100 enemy. For every man they had on the
ground the enemy had roughly 500 out looking for them. Seldom in history has the
individual soldier been able to make such a huge impact on the conduct of a war.
Realizing that a vastly expanded helicopter inventory was going to require large
numbers of pilots the Army initiated a new and unique program. It created the
Warrant Officer pilot program.
American army a Warrant Officer is a special grade between non-commissioned and
commissioned officers. The four grades of warrant officers are equivalent in pay
to second lieutenants through majors. They are considered technical experts, and
do not command troops, although they may manage a staff section devoted to their
specialty. But unlike junior officers they do not spend their entire careers
with stars in their eyes.
up to men as young as nineteen these young warrant officers were given a hot
rodders dream to play with, and they set a record for élan, skill, and courage
which rivals that of the very best in the history of warfare. Perhaps their
closest historical precedent was the doomed and carefree fighter pilots of World
Possessed of superior hand and eye coordination, and (at first) too young to
believe they could die they flew their birds into hot LZs with little or no
thought for their own safety, and made their aircraft do things they were not
designed to do.
writer has seen the young pilots of the legendary 281st Assault
Helicopter Company load their gunships with so many rockets, and so much ammo
that they had to lift and bounce, lift and bounce on their skids to get their
(unarmed passenger) pilots learned to ease their birds down through triple
canopy jungle to extract a casualty. Taking signals from his crew chief the
pilot would go over a foot, down two feet, left a foot and a half, down six
inches, until they were low enough to drop a cable to pick up the wounded. This
required superb coordination, and complete trust in the crew. They risked their
lives daily for their fellow soldiers and paid a heavy price for it. At no time
or place have their been better men than these.
Vietnam started the helicopters were laughable Rube Goldberg contraptions; the
H-21 Flying Banana, the H-34, a big clumsy, slow and obvious target. In 1962
Bell Helicopter of Ft. Worth TX initiated a rushed program to develop a light,
powerful, maneuverable chopper that could carry a squad of troops into combat,
and do a multitude of other tasks, from command and control to flying ambulance.
Their was the HU1A, quickly dubbed the Huey.
the Huey had models through H. it was the workhorse. Loaded with rockets and
machineguns it became a gunship. Loaded with troops it became a bus. Pretty much
retired now, the Huey will be remembered with the C47 and the P51 as one of the
sense the helicopter crews and passengers in Vietnam got a free ride, although
one might not think so from their casualty figures. Throughout most of the war
the enemy had nothing to bring them down with but small arms.
different battlefield, against an enemy armed with decent anti-aircraft weapons
this would be a very different story.
Consider, if you will, the experience of the Russians in Afghanistan.
"All the choppers were from the
281st Assault Helicopter Company, which for
my money was the best chopper outfit in Nam. They were very proud of their
association with the Project (Delta), wore camouflage fatigues and put their
lives on the line continuously. They had a tradition of disregarding any
regulation which interfered with the performance of their mission. They were
mostly young guys, almost all of them were Warrant Officers...The 281st put
so many rockets on their choppers that they would barely lift off. They
would lift a little, go forward some and thud against the ground, gaining
more momentum from the thud than from the rotors. After two or three repeats
of this they would finally limp airborne and gather enough speed to gain
From the book, "War Story" by Jim Morris, a three tour SF officer. The
author was on the ground with the 91st Ranger BN (later the 81st) during what
appears to be Operation Pirous that was run out of the FOB at Hue-Phu Bai.
Summary submitted by Bob Mitchell, "Bandit 24"